Senate panel looking at hiring practices at weather agency

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 15, 2015 5:40 PM

By Alex Wilts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee on Monday said it was seeking more information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on whether its employees have boosted their pay in post-retirement contracts with the agency.

A former senior NOAA official, P. Donald Jiron, allegedly set the salary and terms of his own post-retirement consulting post at the National Weather Service (NWS), a part of NOAA, according to reports by the Commerce Department's inspector general's office and The Washington Post, which prompted an inquiry by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The committee's statement said that the day after Jiron retired, he returned to the same office to perform his same duties, "but as a contractor with a $43,200 raise and an impermissible $50,000 housing allowance."

Republican Senator John Thune, the committee chairman, wrote in a letter Thursday to NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan: "The fact that senior agency officials approved this unseemly arrangement, which clearly warranted closer scrutiny, appears to be indicative of a potential agency-wide problem."

The letter from Thune followed the inspector general's report citing the $50,000 housing allowance and The Washington Post's report citing the raise of $43,200.

The inspector general's investigation also found that Jiron reportedly tried to use his position as a contractor and former senior official to secure a job for his daughter, going against federal rules requiring competition in hiring practices.

Jiron's lawyer, Matthew Kaiser, said in a statement that his client did not do anything wrong. Kaiser said the OIG report states that Jiron "acted at the direction and with the approval of his supervisor at all times" and that his post-employment consulting arrangement "was facilitated and approved by NOAA officials with responsibility for ensuring integrity in government contracting."

"Clearly there are problems at NOAA and NWS, but Mr. Jiron should not be the scapegoat for NOAA's broader problems," Kaiser said.

Thune's letter gave NOAA until June 26 to provide the committee with the information it requested, which includes details about the hiring process of contract employees. The letter also requested a briefing.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler)